The San Diego Chargers closed out the 2011 season on a winning note, defeating their arch-rivals, the Oakland Raiders, 38-26, to finish the season 8-8, winning four of their final five games.
Norv Turner, the head coach with the highest winning percentage in franchise history, led the team to a 4-1 record down the stretch after injuries and inconsistent play contributed to a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season.
Offensively, the Chargers’ premier stars shined as expected.
Quarterback Philip Rivers rallied to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns for the fourth consecutive season, earning a Pro Bowl spot. Both durations are team records. Running back Ryan Mathews finished the year with 1,091 rushing yards, including three-straight 100-yard games late in the season. Tight end Antonio Gates became the franchise’s all-time receptions leader (593), despite missing three games due to injuries and wide receiver Vincent Jackson posted his third 1,000-yard season and led the team with nine touchdown catches.
The offensive line went through one of its most difficult seasons in recent memory as Pro Bowlers tackle Marcus McNeill and guard Kris Dielman were both lost to season-ending injuries. Center Nick Hardwick and tackle Jeromey Clary were the only two linemen to start all 16 games, while guard Louis Vasquez started 14. Down the stretch, guard Tyronne Green and tackle Jared Gaither proved to be valuable replacements at key positions.
Defensively, safety Eric Weddle earned his first-career Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nods after tying for the NFL lead and setting a career-high with seven interceptions.
Veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes was the newcomer and made an immediate impression. Just weeks after joining the team, Spikes, the 14-year vet, was voted a team captain. He instantly took on a leadership role and backed it up with his play on the field, leading the team with 119 tackles, the 11th time in 14 seasons he’d recorded more than 100. Linebacker Antwan Barnes, pressed into increased duty when injuries left the team thin at outside linebacker, set a career high with 11 sacks, including a career-high four in a nationally- televised late-season game against his former team, the Baltimore Ravens.
When Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding was lost to a knee injury on the opening kickoff of the 2011 season, kicker Nick Novak stepped in days later and hit 27 of 34 field goals, setting team records for field goals of 40 (12) and 50 yards or longer (4).
* The Chargers scored 406 points in 2011, extending their NFL-record streak of consecutive 400-point seasons to eight. The Chargers scored 157 points in their last five games, an average of 31.4 points per contest.
* Rivers passed for 4,624 yards this season to join Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino (1980-81) and Warren Moon (1990-91) and Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning (2009-10) and New Orleans Saints’ signal caller Drew Brees (2010-11) as the only players in NFL history with back-to-back 4,500-yard passing seasons.
* Rivers also joined Manning (1999-04 and 2006-10) and Brees (2006-11) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least four-straight 4,000-yard seasons.
* Rivers became just the sixth quarterback in NFL history with at least 25 touchdown passes in four straight seasons, joining Manning (1998-2010), Brett Favre (1994-98 & 2001-04), Marino (1984-88), Brees (2006-11) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (2008-11).
* Rivers completed a team-record 366 passes in 2011.
* Gates led the team with 64 catches and moved past former wide receiver great Charlie Joiner to become the Chargers’ all-time leader.
* Gates finished the season with seven touchdown catches, ending his NFL-record streak of seven-straight seasons with at least eight.
* Jackson reached the 250-catch minimum to qualify for the team’s career average yards per catch list. His 17.5 average ranks third-highest in team history behind legendary wide receiver Lance Alworth (19.4) and Gary Garrison (18.6).
* Wide receiver Malcom Floyd caught 43 passes in 2011 and 41 of them went for first downs. The 95.3 percent clip was the highest in the NFL this season. Jackson, meanwhile saw 54 of his 60 catches result in the same and his 90.0% mark was the NFL’s second highest.
* Running back Mike Tolbert led the team with eight rushing touchdowns and he raised his career total to 20, claiming sixth on the team’s all-time rushing touchdowns list.
* Rivers finished the 2011 NFL season ranked fourth in completions (366), fifth in pass attempts (582), seventh in completion percentage (62.9), sixth in yards (4,624), eighth in touchdown passes (27) and ninth in third-down passer rating (87.6).
* Mathews ranked seventh in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,546). He ranked 10th in the league in rushing (1,091 yards) and his 4.9-yard average per carry tied for seventh-highest among the league’s top 25 rushers. Mathews tied for the NFL’s 10th-most first downs accrued (70).
* Punter Mike Scifres ranked sixth in the NFL in gross punting average (47.5) and 10th in net average (39.7).
* Richard Goodman finished the year fourth in kickoff return average (27.5), aided by his team-record 105-yard touchdown return in the 2011 season finale at Oakland.
* With a career-high 11 sacks, Barnes barely missed the top 10, tying for 11th.
* Novak just missed the top 10 for scoring among kickers, tying for 11th in the league with 122 points. Novak kicked in only 15 games after signing in Week 2.
Chargers 2012 Opponents
If the Chargers have aspirations of making the 2012 postseason, they can not afford to start off slow, like they normally do, as they will draw two tough divisions in the AFC North and the NFC South. The Chargers must get off to a good start and maintain a top performance throughout their 2012 campaign to avoid being spectators of the playoffs, again.
Kansas City Kansas City
Tennessee New York Jets
Atlanta New Orleans
Carolina Tampa Bay
(Review was assisted by team’s press release)